Heirs of inevitability

Note to partners: get ready to get nostalgic post-LSA

Bruce MacEwen
Bruce MacEwen

The relentless march of globalisation is no longer a rubric to be safely ­reserved for your clients. The news of Russell Jones & Walker’s (RJW) ­acquisition by Australia’s publicly listed Slater & Gordon announces that the inexorable market dynamic of globalisation has battered in the front door of law land and installed itself in the parlour.

Make no mistake, these phrases, these techniques and these embedded assumptions about the way the world of competition and commerce work are taken straight from the playbook of dealmakers and investment bankers rather than the cobwebbed ’Who else is doing this?’ world of law partnerships:
“The task is to make sure we ­dominate the market and that means capital; you have to be properly ­resourced for growth.”

“We operate on a corporatised model; the partnership is dead.”

“We tell our workforce, ’These are what your opportunities for ownership are’.”

“The aim is to build a brand aimed directly at our target market.”

Still sceptical? May I suggest ­several handy intellectual refuges for you, one or more of which you may already have sought to occupy:
“I mean, who cares about the personal injury/consumer law market anyway – they’re welcome to it.”

“Lawyers will never stand for a command and control corporate structure; they require autonomy.”

“RJW has no brand recognition, and they’ve just sold what little they have for a mess of pottage.”

And finally:

“ What’s the rush?”

May I suggest, gentle reader, that these are the wrong questions. The verdict on this deal – which will not begin to come in for a few years, soonest – lies not in the hands
of pundits or the comfortably ­ensconced, but in the hands of the market. (See: Globalisation, supra.)

We have known for at least a decade (thank you, Clayton Christensen and your book The Innovator’s Dilemma) that prosperous, well-run firms, ­including market leaders, can fall prey to disruptive rivals coming from unexpected and unforeseen directions – all without the need to resort to imputing insularity or dogmatism to the incumbents.
But I write of course from a US-centric perspective; and more egregiously, from the perspective of a serial entrepreneur.

I ignore, don’t I, that, “This is just the UK, with its preposterous Legal Services Act, and some wild Aussies – it would never happen over here”.

If this reasoning tempts you, I ­direct your attention to the checkered, or worse, history of campaign finance reform in the States.

If one moral can be drawn from all the attempts to cleanse politics of money – and let us hasten to stipulate that they arise from the best of intentions – it is this: can’t do it. Money finds its own level. It cannot be contained, controlled or regulated into submission.

The same will prove true, I predict, of access to capital markets for law firms. Once the gates have opened – which they now have on two of the three ’Western’ continents – there is no stopping it. The water’s edge is not even a porous barrier; it is a purely imaginary one. Gentlemen, start your engines.